What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

There is often confusion about how coaching and mentoring differ.

Broadly speaking, the CIPD defines coaching as 'developing a person's skills and knowledge so that their job performance improves, hopefully leading to the achievement of organisational objectives. It targets high performance and improvement at work, although it may also have an impact on an individual's private life. It usually lasts for a short period and focuses on specific skills and goals.'

Traditionally, mentoring is the long term passing on of support, guidance and advice.

In the workplace it has tended to describe a relationship in which a more experienced colleague uses their knowledge and understanding of the work being carried our or of the workplace to support the development of junior or inexperienced member of staff.

This comes from the Greek myth where Odysseus entrusts the education of his son to his friend Mentor.

Mentoring is used as a form of long term tailored development to support the individual which in turn brings benefits to the organisation.

The characteristics of mentoring are:

• It is essentially a supportive form of development.

• It focuses on helping an individual manage their career and improve skills.

• Mentoring activities have both organisational and individual goals.

The has been adapted from Alred et al, and highlights the differences between mentoring and coaching. Coaching skills and mentoring skills can often overlap but these aspects show the key distinctions.


Ongoing relationship that can last for a long time

Can be more informal and meetings can take place as and when the mentored individual needs some guidance and or support

More long term and takes a broader view of the person, often known as the 'mentee'.

Mentor usually passes on experience and is normally more senior in organisation

The focus is on career and personal development

Agenda is set by the mentored person with the mentor providing support and guidance to prepare them for future roles

Revolves more around developing the mentee professionally


Relationship generally has a short duration

Generally more structured in nature and meetings scheduled on a regular basis ​

Short-term (sometimes time bounded) and focused on specific development areas/issues

Not generally performed on basis that coach needs direct experience of clients formal occupational role

Focus generally on development/issues at work

Agenda focused on achieving specific, immediate goals

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